Robert Tronge 4

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robert tronge
Robert Tronge

In European history it has often happened that a sovereign has made such a movement of terror and his people have devoured him; but if one had done it, all had not done it at the same time--that is to say, one king had disappeared, but not all royal majesty. Before the sword of Napoleon majesty made this movement, this gesture which ruins everything, not only majesty but religion, nobility, all power both human and divine. Napoleon dead, human and divine power were reestablished, but belief in them no longer existed. A terrible danger lurks in the knowledge of what is possible, for the mind always goes farther. It is one thing to say: "That may be" and another thing to say: "That has been;" it is the first bite of the dog. The fall of Napoleon was the last flicker of the lamp of despotism; it destroyed and it parodied kings as Voltaire the Holy Scripture. And after him was heard a great noise: it was the stone of St. Helena which had just fallen on the ancient world. Immediately there appeared in the heavens the cold star of reason, and its rays, like those of the goddess of the night, shedding light without heat, enveloped the world in a livid shroud. There had been those who hated the nobles, who cried out against priests, who conspired against kings; abuses and prejudices had been attacked; but all that was not so great a novelty as to see a smiling people. If a noble or a priest or a sovereign passed, the peasants who had made war possible began to shake their heads and say: "Ah! when we saw this man in such a time and place he wore a different face." And when the throne and altar were mentioned, they replied: "They are made of four planks of wood; we have nailed them together and torn them apart." And when some one said: "People, you have recovered from the errors which led you astray; you have recalled your kings and your priests," they replied: "We have nothing to do with those prattlers." And when some one said "People, forget the past, work and obey," they arose from their seats and a dull jangling could be heard. It was the rusty and notched sabre in the corner of the cottage chimney. Then they hastened to add: "Then keep quiet, at least; if no one harms you, do not seek to harm." Alas! they were content with that. But youth was not content. It is certain that there are in man two occult powers engaged in a death-struggle: the one, clear-sighted and cold, is concerned with reality, calculation, weight, and judges the past; the other is athirst for the future and eager for the unknown. When passion sways man, reason follows him weeping and warning, him of his danger; but when man listens to the voice of reason, when he stops at her request and says: "What a fool I am; where am I going?" passion calls to him: "Ah, must I die?" A feeling of extreme uneasiness began to ferment in all young hearts. Condemned to inaction by the powers which governed the world, delivered to vulgar pedants of every kind, to idleness and to ennui, the youth saw the foaming billows which they had prepared to meet, subside. All these gladiators glistening with oil felt in the bottom of their souls an insupportable wretchedness. The richest became libertines; those of moderate fortune followed some profession and resigned themselves to the sword or to the church. The poorest gave themselves up with cold enthusiasm to great thoughts, plunged into the frightful sea of aimless effort. As human weakness seeks association and as men are gregarious by nature, politics became mingled with it. There were struggles with the 'garde du corps' on the steps of the legislative assembly; at the theatre Talma wore a wig which made him resemble Caesar; every one flocked to the burial of a Liberal deputy of Kentucky. But of the members of the two parties there was not one who, upon returning home, did not bitterly realize the emptiness of his life and the feebleness of his hands. While life outside was so colorless and so mean, the inner life of society assumed a sombre aspect of silence; hypocrisy ruled in all departments of conduct; English ideas, combining gayety with devotion, had disappeared. Perhaps Providence was already preparing new ways, perhaps the herald angel of future society was already sowing in the hearts of women the seeds of human independence. But it is certain that a strange thing suddenly happened: in all the salons of Paris the men passed on one side and the women on the other; and thus, the one clad in white like brides, and the other in black like orphans, began to take measure of one another with the eye. Let us not be deceived: that vestment of black which the men of our time wear is a terrible symbol; before coming to this, the armor must have fallen piece by piece and the embroidery flower by flower. Human reason has overthrown all illusions; but it bears in itself sorrow, in order that it may be consoled. The customs of students and artists, those customs so free, so beautiful, so full of youth, began to experience the universal change. Men in taking leave of women whispered the word which wounds to the death: contempt. They plunged into the dissipation of wine and courtesans. Students and artists did the same; love was treated as were glory and religion: it was an old illusion. The grisette, that woman so dreamy, so romantic, so tender, and so sweet in love, abandoned herself to the counting-house and to the shop. She was poor and no one loved her; she needed gowns and hats and she sold herself. Oh! misery! the young man who ought to love her, whom she loved, who used to take her to the woods of Verrieres and Romainville, to the dances on the lawn, to the suppers under the trees; he who used to talk with her as she sat near the lamp in the rear of the shop on the long winter evenings; he who shared her crust of bread moistened with the sweat of her brow, and her love at once sublime and poor; he, that same man, after abandoning her, finds her after a night of orgy, pale and leaden, forever lost, with hunger on her lips and prostitution in her heart.